It seems like there are a million places to donate your time these days. You could volunteer anywhere, from PAWS, an organization that helps rescue animals, to the Organization for Autism Research, which works with groups to help advance research for helping those with autism.

But how do you decide where to dedicate your time and energy, when there are so many valuable, viable options?

We’ve put together some tips for making that decision, as well as a list of volunteer organizations that could help you narrow down those search perimeters.

How to Decide Where to Volunteer

There are several criteria you should look at before dedicating your time and effort to a particular organization or organizations.

1. Why Are You Volunteering?

The first step to determining where you should donate your time is understanding why you want to volunteer. Are you into a faith-based volunteer group where you can donate time to spread the message of your faith? Or are you more about social justice and want to help people fight against oppression?

There are organizations that focus on causes in a wide range, so you’ll surely find one that fits your reasons for volunteering. Types of causes may include any of these:

  • Faith/religion
  • Feeding the hungry
  • Helping the homeless
  • Underprivileged children
  • Animal rescues
  • Conservation and environment
  • Emergency aid and disaster relief

Once you’ve decided the type of people or cause you want to help with your time, you can narrow down your search by looking for groups that work with that cause. Going from your list of possible causes, you can search online with key phrases like “pet rescue volunteer opportunities,” or “Christian volunteer work.”

2. What Kinds of Work Can Volunteers Do?

Your skillset will be a huge aspect of how you choose where to volunteer. If, for example, you’re a talented artist who thrives on helping kids follow their dreams, volunteering as an office worker at a worthy organization where you never meet any kids won’t be a great fit.

You need to understand what kinds of work you can do with a given organization, before you donate your time, even if the organization is an awesome one you really believe in. If you can’t volunteer your time there, donate some money or goods instead.

3. Where do the Donations Go?

One of the most important things you’ll look into with any organization you donate time or money to, will be who is really most benefited by your gift. You can check out sites like Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, or BBB Wise Giving Alliance to see where the money really goes. If they’re good at using the money as they should, then your donated time is of benefit to the people you’re trying to help.

How to Start Volunteering

These basics steps will help you, once you’ve decided which group(s) to volunteer with.

1. Apply for the Gig

Always treat your application with an organization like you would a job application. While volunteers are always in high demand for nearly every organization, most groups will follow a fairly strict protocol and require certain qualifications in their volunteers. If, for example, the group works with children, they’re going to need to run background checks, and assess your ability to work with children and their parents.

2. Complete Your Training

Every organization has training that you should complete before beginning your work with them. Even if you’ve done exactly the same kind of work before, you should still complete the training. Different organizations have different terms, minor policy differences, and other issues that you won’t know without their training.

3. Don’t Jump in Too Fast

Take your time, and ease yourself into your position. Getting too involved, too quickly, can cause burn out and frustration on your part, and could limit your ability to effectively work with the group.

4. Give Yourself Grace

Don’t forget that you’re giving your time to help others. If you’re struggling with a certain area or need to take a break, that’s perfectly fine. It takes time to learn something new, and it takes effort to succeed at anything worth doing.

Our List of Volunteer Organizations

You can check out any of these volunteer sites that help you connect with an organization that’s right for you.

Now, to Volunteer

With so many places to volunteer, it shouldn’t take long for you to find the right place to apply your skillsets, to help the people or causes you care about most. Be sure to look into each organization’s donation spending, and what skillsets they need from volunteers before applying.

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